Conversation with Francisca Van Dunen

Minister of Justice


My memories are from Novo Redondo and Luanda



"I remember the first time I went from Luanda to Novo Redondo. We stayed at João das Regras Street, still a mythical place for me. I remember the neighbors who welcomed us and in return my mother gave them candies. Relationships were built like this."



I was born i n Luanda. I was a girl and a young woman in Angola. There is a layer of mine that relates me with Angola, permanently. It is not just memories. Africanity is, in my case, essential. It is not only an occasional background but something that, in a way, comply all that I am.

More than Bitterness or sadness, I feel a connection with Angola. Not only good things happened, but I look back and I always find an overflowing happiness, a good life. It is strange, but even when I scrutinize the events and I find moments that were very bad, I can see my childhood and my youth as glorious times.

My happiest memories are from my early childhood, in a fishing village that, despite being calm, quiet and peaceful, is also my metropolis, my capital, my center. I remember the clerks’ meetings. They socialized a lot in each other’s houses. There was a sense of community, beauty and harmony. People gathered and there was a chain of happiness.



When I look into pictures of that time, I see beautiful ladies. Most of them were housekeepers, had children, how could they be like that? They look radiant and happy. Life overflows images, even when I find out that they have their own terrible personal dramas.




Epic Stories when the entire house was moved



"My paternal grandfather was a great activist dedicated to the cause of nationalism and civil rights."



I am the youngest of six brothers. I have a large and close family. A family with great social and political consciousness. My paternal grandfather was a great activist. He was the founder of a newspaper devoted to the cause of nationalism, when civil rights issues were being discussed.

At my house, I have always heard about my grandfather’s deportation stories.

Epic stories when the entire house was moved. Sad moments for everyone, but I could also hear those stories as if they were a novel. Things that we know by what was written and by oral narratives. And it was with these stories that I grew up: stories about African National League creation and meetings. Some dramatic, others to laugh your head off.





Epic Stories when the entire house was moved



"When my mother left, my grandmother used to say in Kimbundu at our dinner’s table, "I am eating, but I am crying"."



I only know some random words in African languages. I feel sad that I don’t know more. My mother understands Kimbundu, but my father doesn’t. It was my grandmother’s mother tongue. She wanted her children to learn it, so they could understand if someone insulted them on the street. I used to tell her that I would rather not understand these insults. When my mother left, my grandmother used to say at our dinner’s table in Kimbundu, "I am eating, but I am crying".

Indigenous status, created by the Republic, forbade to speak national languages, which was brutal. The knowledge of national languages used to be tested and negatively scored the applicants for the Civil Service. For this reason, many people decided to cut with their mother tongue to enter the assimilation process.





LISBON, 1973



"For me, there was a clash with traditions."



When I came to Lisbon to study I was seventeen years old, in 1973, I came to a region of the national territory. Regardless our idea of the struggle for independence, I travelled to the same national space. I moved as a student from the outskirts to Lisbon to study. Nowadays who comes to live in Portugal makes a cut with a previous life. Builds a new stage, faces the unknown, a future of no return, the perspective of someone who emigrates. It is a fragile situation, because it breaks everything it was on the other side.

For me, there was a clash with traditions. The environment in the colonial cities was not straightforward. They were very complex, full of difficulties.

But they had and still have a friendly atmosphere. They are open societies: conviviality, family, neighborhood, work relationships. In Portugal it is common for people to work together for years without being together outside the workplace. In the Africa that I know about, you cannot live like this. There is greater sharing and fellowship.

For those who arrive, this is a different place, with a different climate, with problems of enrollment in the labor market and with problems of social registration and up to the neighborhood level.



Today there is a relatively large African descent community in Portugal. And on the other hand, many people who went to Africa and have a relationship with Africa. And that makes things different. The anthropological landscape no longer gives such a strong feeling of isolation and oneness, which allows a greater recognition.





Francisca Van Dunem was born in Luanda, in 1955. She came to Portugal in 1973 and graduated in Law from Faculdade de Direito of Universidade de Lisboa, in July 1977. From 1977 to 1979 she was responsible for Criminal Law and Procedural Criminal Law departments at that same university and in 1979 she became Magistrate of the Public Prosecutor.

She was syndication and survey advisor at Alta Autoridade contra a Corrupção between, delegate Public Prosecutor in Labor Court, Criminal Court of Lisbon, and Department of Investigation and Penal Action of Lisbon.

She was a member of Attorney General's Office between 1999 and 2001, director of the Department of Investigation and Penal Action of Lisbon between 2001 and 2007, member of European Judicial Network concerning criminal matters Between 2003 and 2007. and, since 2007, she was Attorney General of the District of Lisbon.

She was a member of the Commission that reviewed the Procedural Criminal Law in 2009 and represented Portugal in several meetings and expert committees of international organizations, namely the European Committee for Criminal Problems, the Council of Europe, and the European Observatory for Racism of the European Union.



Conversation conducted by Maria Teresa Cruz
(video registration and editing by Madalena Miranda) ©2016
We thank the Minister of Justice for the opportunity of this interview.